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Do you hate the NHS?

By on June 25, 2014
Mannerheim League for Child Welfare clinic in Jämsänkoski 1938, public domain image.
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This is an installment in Mark Sorrell’s regular guest post series. See the full series.

I just got back from Finland. It was the Pocket Gamer Connects conference in Helsinki and, since Finland is the Graceland of F2P in Europe, I felt a longing in my soul to go there and do a talk about behavioural economics. So I did. It was rad and exciting and interesting and l made some new pals and everything.

It also turns out that Finland is really lovely. It’s clean and crisp and refreshing, like a good white wine, except it’s a country. Mostly, it consists of fir trees and lakes and shops that sell furniture so intelligently designed that Richard Dawkins refuses to acknowledge its existence. You should definitely go there.

Finland is a social democracy. Taxes are high, and public services are comprehensive and egalitarian. Levels of gender equality are among the highest in the world. Child poverty is at only 4%. By comparison, in the US it’s 22%. Finland is consistently at the top of leaderboards for standard of living and education and being lovely and everything.

It’s not hard to see why a country like Finland, that prides itself on the quality of its society, on its fairness, would also understand the free to play model. Give the people what they need. Sell them what they want. That’s the basis of social democracy, after all. And it’s the basis of the free to play model. It’s not communism, it’s not about everyone being the same. It’s not about neoliberal capitalism, about removing the safety net, letting the folks at the bottom live on whatever might happen to trickle down. It’s about giving everyone what they need and letting them work for what they want.

By comparison, the traditional retail model, the one-price-fits-all model has far more in common with traditional capitalism, red in tooth and claw. For free, you get nothing. You pay for every tiny sliver of content. It’s privatised, it’s exclusive, it’s for the privileged. The fact that it’s a less efficient way of getting people to pay for something is just a deliciously ironic bonbon on top.

For an example closer to (my) home, the NHS is a free to play model. You will get that operation you need eventually, regardless of who you are. If you want to pay, and are able, then you can skip the queue. But you don’t have to. Sure, if you want some elective, optional, cosmetic services than you have to pay either way. But the point remains, here’s what you need. Work for what you want. The NHS is free to play. US healthcare is the retail, boxed, pay up-front model. Fuck you, pay me.

What this basically means is that if you like the NHS then you like free-to-play. If you prefer US style healthcare, you prefer the retail model. It suddenly seems odd to describe free-to-play as greedy, doesn’t it?

About Mark Sorrell

Mark Sorrell is a consultant and advisor on freemium game design, behavioural change, value perception and strategy. With over a decade of experience in making games do new things, in new places, for new audiences, for companies across gaming, broadcasting, advertising and finance, if you want to know how games can help your business, start by asking Mark.
  • stealth20k

    F2P games do not make any game better. It is just a business model to extract more money.

  • Kevin Browne

    Which nails the absurdity of the post: healthcare is anything but “zero-marginal cost” and the NHS is an irrational framework that tries to pretend it is. Healthcare is an enormously high-cost endeavor where the next “marginal” patient might cost thousands of times the previous one. It requires specialized buildings and equipment, drugs which cost billions to create, and the most intensively trained practitioners to deliver. To cast over that an egalitarian “everybody should get whatever they need” ensures poor outcomes – which NHS does. NHS hospitals are happy to grab hand-me-down 15-yr old incubators from US hospitals. In the land where MRI was invented, it takes upward of 3-4 months to get a scan. British cancer patients have dramatically less life-expectancy for most types of cancer.

  • Ex Nihilo

    i really like this article! refreshing perspective.
    of cource the comparison is not accordingly convertible, but it shows that you truely have made your own thoughts about the ftp topic instead so many others, which only repeat the same old phrases. hats off!

  • Not that I wrote the original post, of course.

  • I’m no apologist. Free to play is a great and positive response to consumers demanding things for free in a world of zero-marginal-cost distribution. It makes me happy.

  • uniqueuser

    It’s always entertaining to see which absurd analogy F2P apologists will draw next in a futile effort to quell their consciences.

  • Mark Wonnacott

    this analogy would work better if the public services were degraded to the point where being able to pay is the only way to get a good service… now that makes me think of the NHS

    f2p games also use every dodgy psychological trick in the book to try to make you spend. dehumanizing terminology such as “whales” is used to abstract away the reliance on exploiting a small pool of big spenders

    “If you want to pay, and are able, then you can skip the queue.” does that sound like a good system of health care to you?

  • Ugh

    So we just need a model of game development where a large percentage of the population fund game development automatically out of their wages whether they play those games or not for the benefit of all of society and your basic premise might vaguely work.

    Then we need doctors who deliberately obstruct your treatment until you give them a fiver every time you see them. With them constantly reminding you to slip them a few more quid their way and you’ll get better service.

    Glibness aside it seems like you’re trying to basically shame people who like the NHS but don’t like F2P and you’re really REALLY reaching to pull that off.

  • Mark Sorrell

    Tax-payers fund it. Not all NHS users are tax-payers. It is true free to some users.

  • Paul Knights

    The NHS is not free. Everyone pays for it all the time. If anything its gaming comparison would be subscription based MMOs.

  • Optimaximal

    Interestingly, you draw that analogy, but consider that the very big rich companies in games are drawn to F2P games as a means to over-monetise and make money, yet the very big rich companies in healthcare are trying to take the NHS apart and turn it into your description of the retail model.